At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.
A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.
Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.
The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”
By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."
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Searchers show goes on with all 12 strings attachedIllawarra Mercury, March 11th
Searchers show goes on with all 12 strings attached. Joan Ingram, of Dapto, with her Rickenbacker guitar which she lent to The Searchers for the last show of their Australia tour after their 12-string guitar was damaged. Picture: ADAM McLEAN. Tweet...Read more
Dean Wareham, 'Dean Wareham'Boston Globe, March 10th
“Come turn the world on again,” he intones on “Beat the Devil,” adding an electric 12-string guitar reminiscent of the Byrds. James mostly plays spacey keyboards throughout, but affixes some of his famously imaginative guitar flourishes. Wareham, who...Read more
Blue Notes, by Robin LynamSouth China Morning Post, March 9th
Castro Marin (1981, Phonogram): flamenco enters new territory as de Lucia teams up with electric bassist Carles Benavent and fellow guitarists Larry Coryell and McLaughlin, who adds a 12-string guitar to the unconventional line-up. Friday Night in San ...Read more
ON A DIFFERENT NOTE: Nods to vinyl, Bruce Springsteen and David BowieBucks Local News, March 7th
Over the weekend I got a number of excited texts, accompanied by some great pictures, about a few albums I'm very familiar with. I can't say all of them were in my collection, but I could instantly recognize the covers from the days I was in a record...Read more
Counterbalance: Big Star's 'Third/Sister Lovers'PopMatters, March 7th
already pretty stark 12-string guitar ballad called “Kanga Roo”. Dickinson added layer upon layer of spooky feedback atmospherics and scattershot drumming, and in the process created an impressionistic masterpiece that inspired a generation of...Read more
Cañon Rose Acoustic SocietyCanon City Daily Record, March 5th
Established in 2012, Widowhood Effect consists of Brandon Benoint on guitar and bass, Russell Basques on guitar, banjo, glockenspiel and 12-string guitar while James Curtis plays the guitar and vocals. "The Widowhood Effect is a band committed on ...Read more
Introducing: Phantom ShipsThe Portland Mercury, February 28th
Tomorrow night (Saturday, March 1) marks the first-ever show from Phantom Ships, a new four-piece whose members include Steve Turner (Mudhoney) on 12-string guitar and vocals, Evan Railton (Swords, Blue Giant) on drums, James Adair (Dolorean) on ...Read more
The history of the electric bass part four: how many strings?MusicRadar.com, February 26th
The sixties also saw the rise in popularity of the 12-string guitar so it's hardly surprising that an 8-string bass should appear. One of the best of these is the Rickenbacker, which has appeared in various guises over the years. The semi hollow bodied...Read more